CANCER HAS A FACE.
It is more than a disease. It is more than the source of a statistic. It is more than the money we raise or the shirts we wear.
Cancer has a face – and it’s personal.
This past weekend many people gathered in the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park to participate in the annual “Relay for Life” event that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Everything started on Friday afternoon when cancer survivors and cancer warriors gathered at the Switzerland County High School cafeteria for a dinner; continued through the opening ceremonies and the first Survivors Lap; there was a second lap for families and caregivers; and then everyone settled in to enjoy the evening visiting with friends – and many of those visits came while walking circles through the Ogle Park.
My wife is very involved in the Relay for Life here. She lost her father to cancer. Her grandfather, too. Each year she takes on the challenge of coordinating the luminary service, which is held about 10:30 p.m., when the park lights go off and hundreds of candles are lit to circle the course.
In the dark, names are read over a loud speaker.
The first set of names are those whose memory has been honored by a loved one or neighbor. That first set of names are in memory of people who fought a fight none of us want to face. Even in their passing, they teach us about courage and determination and character and honor.
And – in the black of the night – you see their faces.
They may appear in your mind’s memory.
They may appear as the faces of those generations of children and grandchildren who are following after them.
They may appear in the tear that swells in your eye; or the lump that rises in your throat.
But they are there.
The second group of names honors those who are currently fighting the disease; and also those who fought the fight and won the battle. They are currently cancer-free, and for them, everyday is a day to celebrate.
Those faces are much easier to see, because many times they are walking the course, candle in hand, when their name is read. They may have their arms around family members – some in celebration; and others because they need that strength to finish the lap.
But there is another set of faces that we all ‘saw’ on Friday night – and those are the faces of those still battling but too sick to attend.
Little Gavin Craig was on the hearts and minds of many at the Relay on Friday night.
He wasn’t there because he’s in the hospital battling leukemia, his parents at his side.
A community also figuratively stands at his side, as well, ready to take whatever action is necessary to help Gavin or his family.
Cancer had a face on Saturday, as well, as hundreds of people showed up to support Randy Dickerson and his family as Randy battles cancer.
I’ve know Randy Dickerson nearly the entire time I’ve lived in Switzerland County – even played some softball on the “Randy’s Shell” softball team a year or so. In all that time I know that Randy Dickerson is the ‘real deal’, he won’t BS you, and he won’t try to impress you by being what he’s not.
Right now he’s in one tough fight, but even though he’s “wirery” I guarantee you that right now cancer knows it’s in a pretty tough fight, too.
Cancer debilitates you physically, but it also has a real cost to you and family; that’s where Saturday night comes in.
You’ve seen it before here: someone is dealt a bad hand; and the community of family steps in and surrounds that person and works tirelessly to try and help wherever needed.
On Saturday night it was eating some tremendous barbecue and yummy desserts and bidding on some auction items and generally having a good time with good friends for a great cause.
It wasn’t the first community benefit I’ve attended here, and it won’t be the last, because although I’d like nothing better than to see all of this need go away; the honest truth is that it won’t – but we, as a community, are ready to help meet and exceed those challenges.
That’s why we buy things at the Relay’s auction like ‘green’ golf balls and a toy truck and a case of water.
It’s why we stay up late walking a path in order to stay the course.
It’s why we dig deep when we donate for our meal at a community benefit.
We do it because, quite simply, that’s what we do.
We are THE Switzerland County Community –
and we are family.
There’s another reason why this is all so important; and that because I get emotional each and every year when names begin to switch lists.
Because Jacquita has been so involved for so many years with the luminary service; she and our family see those names – sometimes just a few, other years quite a lot – move from the “In Honor” list to the “In Memory” list.
I hate that.
If I could wave a magic wand, all those “In Honor” people would become “In Celebration” people – and they’d go to the Survivors Banquet and they’d tell stories before heading to the park for that first lap and many others.
There would be a spring in their step and optimism in their stride. Everyone would ‘win’; and maybe we wouldn’t have to walk that course anymore.
I take this all very personally, because you can shoot all the statistics at me you’d like about cancer; but when I see them it all gets very personal.
I see neighbors.
I see friends.
I see family members.
I see faces.